Indian team’s head coach Ravi Shastri rued the absence of a solid middle-order batsman after India exited the 2019 ICC World Cup after 18-run defeat to New Zealand in the semi-finals.

Shastri, however, defended the team management’s decision to hold Mahendra Singh Dhoni back in the batting order and not send him ahead of either Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik, a call that came under heavy criticism from former players.

“It was a team decision. Everyone was in with it – and it was a simple decision, too. The last thing you wanted was Dhoni coming out to bat early and getting out – that would have killed the chase. We needed his experience later. He is the greatest finisher of all times – and it would have been criminal to not make use of him in that way. The whole team was clear on it,” Shastri told The Indian Express.

“And Rishabh Pant did look pretty secure when he got out to bat, even against (New Zealand fast bowler) Trent Boult, didn’t he? You could then say that if Pant had continued and not got out… but that’s sport. You grow up in quick time. He will learn, he already knows it. But I am happy that the team showed spunk. They didn’t give up even after losing Pant and Pandya. What a fightback that was.” he added, justifying the team’s choice to send Dhoni at No 7.

Read: Ravindra Jadeja, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the fighting spirit that gave India hope

Shastri believes Dhoni had it in him to take India home if he wasn’t dismissed in an “unfortunate” fashion.

“He was magnificent. The composure in the situation. And let me tell you, if not for that unfortunate run out, I think he had his calculations going inside his head. Which ball to hit, how much to keep for (James) Neesham’s last over. You could see his brain was ticking. He wanted to do it so desperately and it was clear on his face when he came back to the dressing room,” Shastri said.

India suffered a top-order collapse that exposed the middle order early on in the innings. The likes of Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik who were largely untested during the tournament failed to provide the resistance needed of them.

The 57-year-old admitted that India were lightweight in that department.

“In hindsight, yes, we did need a solid batsman out there in the middle order. But now, that’s something for the future. That’s a position that was always giving us problems, but we just couldn’t nail it. (K L) Rahul was there but then Shikhar Dhawan got injured. Then Vijay Shankar was there, and he got injured. We just couldn’t control it.” he said, before suggesting there was no time to ease in Mayank Agarwal in the team.

Also Read: NZ exploited India’s middle order for which team management failed to plan better

The coach backed the team to bounce back after the loss which he admitted was a “tough pill to swallow”, but felt that the Indian team was “tough” enough to take this defeat in their stride and continue their progress.

India’s next ODI assignment will be against the West Indies in the Caribbean islands in August.